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Warning: do not trust your internet service provider

Imagine going to netflix.com and picking a movie to watch on their instant streaming catalogue. After a few seconds of buffering, the movie starts playing and you sit back to enjoy your fifth viewing of “The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement.” The video starts stuttering again and a message pops-up: “Would you like to subscribe to the Super-Netflix plan that will allow you to view the thousands of movies in their catalogue in the highest quality possible?”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published what is known as the “FCC Open Internet Order” in 2010. These regulations for the internet service providers (ISPs) were set to try to establish internet neutrality— basically, keeping the way the Internet is now. The ISPs are merely a dumb pipe that consumers use to access the Internet. The Internet is open to everyone to access and use, at least in America. A closed Internet would be something closer to television or radio, where the companies controlling the “Internet pipes” would be able to control access — say, by unjustly providing more bandwidth to companies and websites that pay them. A more sinister abuse of this power is the government or companies blocking websites that might say negative things or only promote sites that say positive things.

A federal appellate court has ruled in favor of ISPs in “Verizon v. FCC.” The court has struck down some segments of the FCC’s regulations— specifically, the parts that have to do with the agency requiring the ISPs to treat all traffic equally. Verizon, ATT, Time Warner, etc., now have the power to control their traffic, but they do have to disclose it to the subscribers.

There is one ray of hope: it is possible that the half-measures that the FCC has taken so far will force them to enact stricter rules. They may finally label ISPs as “common carriers,” as they should be. The federal court might be more amenable to the FCC regulating common-carriers, since they did not strike down the FCC’s power to regulate ISPs in general. A common carrier is a company (or person) provides a service transporting something and does not discern what goes through the pipelines— whether it be physical, like oil pipes, or electronic.

The current chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, before assuming office on Nov 4, 2013, was a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. The “revolving door” problem in government is always bad for the citizens and this could likely mean that the FCC might regress and pass rules that will be beneficial to the service providers, not the consumers. So, really, the ray of hope is  very slim and weak. There is no easy solution. Trusting the ISPs is clearly a poor solution, trusting a governing agency with strong industry ties is equally dumb, and waiting for Congress to pass some law is unlikely because of the ridiculous lobbying power of these megacorporations. There are some things to do: write to your congressman and support local ISPs that do not gouge prices and throttle your Internet.

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